Sunday, October 4, 2009

China Seeks Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile

Defense News


China Seeks Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI — Beijing is working hard to develop an anti-ship ballistic missile by 2015, but the goal may be beyond its ability, China watchers say.

The missile, dubbed the Dong Feng 21C, is to be based on the road-mobile, 2,500-kilometer Dong Feng 21 (East Wind) medium-range ballistic missile. Its development is part of a strategy to keep U.S. naval forces, especially aircraft carriers, from coming to Taiwan’s aid.

The vision is for a multiwave saturation barrage of ballistic missiles armed with warheads that can avoid U.S. SM-3 interceptor missiles.

The effort may have helped persuade the U.S. Navy to curtail its planned fleet of DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers, which carry no defenses against ballistic missiles.

But others say there are too many obstacles, starting with targeting, that will keep China from meeting its goal.

“Targeting long-range anti-ship missiles is the difficult part — finding and tracking the right target, maintaining track on the target in the midst of other shipping, guiding the missile onto the correct target rather than onto decoys or the wrong target,” said Dennis Blair, former U.S. admiral and head of Pacific Command.

Progress appears slow on the development of re-entry vehicles and terminal guidance that would make it hard for an SM-3 to engage.

“I have seen no open-source information that indicates they are close to solving the most difficult technological part of the plan: to be able to retarget [steer] the missile after it re-enters the atmosphere,” said Bud Cole, author of “The Great Wall at Sea.”

China, whose precision-strike weapons often rely on the U.S. Global Positioning System, is trying to wean itself from GPS by deploying geosynchronous Beidou positioning satellites.

“China’s military appears to be investing in multiple means for locating ships at sea, including maritime surveillance aircraft, UAVs, reconnaissance satellites and over-the-horizon radars,” RAND analyst Roger Cliff said.

Beijing’s motivation is clear: In the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, the U.S. sent two aircraft carrier groups to the area to monitor Chinese missile tests intended to intimidate Taiwan. China vowed to deny access to the area to U.S. warships in the future.

If Beijing creates a working missile, and “the U.S. fails to develop counters to it, operating carriers within range of this system, which the DoD [Department of Defense] gives as in excess of 1,500 kilometers, could become a highly risky proposition,” said Cliff, who wrote “Entering the Dragon’s Lair” about China’s anti­access strategies.

China has other options beyond a ballistic missile. Its Su-30, JH­7 and H-6 naval strike aircraft have unrefueled combat radiuses of 1,500 and 1,800 kilometers. A Chinese Song-class submarine surfaced near the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk in October 2006 in waters near Okinawa. There is still debate on whether the submarine surfaced intentionally, possibly as part of a political message, or whether it was an accident.

All this could mean that the U.S. Navy might be willing to get close to the conflict area, “but that would probably be true only until the first carrier got hit,” Cliff said. The remaining carriers would move out of range, reducing their effectiveness, “until we had significantly degraded China’s ability to find and target them.”